During Trip, Obama Should Raise Case of Kenyan Detained at Guantanamo

This blog is cross-posted from the Huffington Post:

President Obama has a long list of security-related issues to raise with the Kenyan government during his trip this weekend, including corruption, the rise of violent extremism, and the Kenyan authorities’ failure to adopt an inclusive approach to countering terrorism.

Human rights activists in the country told me earlier this month that he should raise these issues sensitively, and not pretend that the U.S. record on policing and fighting terrorism has been flawless. The scandal of CIA torture and the prison at Guantanamo Bay are widely known throughout Kenya. They said President Obama should be sure to make reference to the United States’ own mistakes when he talks to his Kenyan counterparts, and fully acknowledge how much the United States still has to improve.

That discussion would provide an opportunity for the president to talk about the return to Kenya of Abdul Malik, the one remaining Kenyan detainee in Guantanamo Bay. Abdul Malik (aka Mohammad Abdul Malik Bajabu) has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2007 without charge or trial, and has been designated for indefinite detention–meaning he has not been cleared for release and likely will never be tried for any crimes.

Malik, according to a U.S. government assessment of questionable reliability, was involved in planning and executing the 2002 attacks against an Israeli-owned hotel and an Israeli airliner in Mombasa, as well as other plots against Kenyan targets. This weekend President Obama should work with the Kenyan authorities to create a plan for Malik’s return to Kenya, in line with the president’s plan to close Guantanamo.

First, Malik should be given a long-overdue Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing so that the current level of risk he presents to the United States can be accurately assessed. President Obama established the PRB, comprised of high-level representatives of all relevant agencies (including the Defense Department, State Department, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence) to review the cases of Guantanamo detainees and assess the threat they pose to the United States and its allies. If the PRB decides that Malik no longer poses a serious threat, he should be cleared for release to Kenya.

If the PRB determines he does pose a significant threat, the United States and Kenya can still craft an appropriate security agreement so that he can be transferred and tried or detained in Kenya, as necessary for U.S. security and appropriate under Kenyan law. Such an agreement may include periodic reporting of his status and whereabouts to satisfy any legitimate U.S. security concerns. Either way, Obama should agree to a plan for returning Malik to his homeland rather detaining him indefinitely in the Guantanamo Bay prison without charge or trial.

Human Rights First has released a new blueprint outlining steps the Obama Administration should take to promote greater stability in Kenya and the region, and to support a robust Kenyan civil society. The blueprint titled “How the United States Can Help Counter Violent Extremism and Support Civil Society in Kenya,” is based on a Human Rights First research trip to Kenya in June and July 2015, including dozens of discussions with human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, lawyers, independent experts, former senior Kenyan security officials, and government officials from the United States and other countries.


Published on July 23, 2015


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